Monday, September 18, 2006

Reading Benedict XVI at Regensburg

What Pope Benedict XVI said last Tuesday in Regensburg was no slip of the tongue, nor was it some back-of-the-hand insult to Muslims. Rather, it was a substantial presentation of papal thinking on Islam, violence, reason, faith, science and the inescapble dilemmas of our age. Apologies seem neither reasonable nor effective at erasing the substance of the Pope's lecture nor their importance. His logos must be encountered on its own terms and not trivialized by the politically correct or the spiritually insecure...

Some Philippine Commentary readers (perhaps the Catolicos cerrados?) may want to listen to a reading of Pope Benedict's recent Lecture before the University of Regensburg, Germany. The transcript in English that I used is the official Vatican version Faith, Reason and the University Memories and Reflections (September 12, 2006).


I've arbitrarily divided the Pope's Lecture into five parts:





Part 1 of the Lecture at Regensburg contains the Pope's discussion of a 14th century conversation between an unnamed "Persian interlocutor" and a Byzantine Emperor with the remarkable name of Manuel Paleologus II. In it Prophet Mohammed's alleged innovations are called "evil and inhuman" -- precipitating the events currently making headlines as the Muslim world reacts. Not only that, the Times of London points out Papal errors involving historical facts and judgments. (via Andrew Sullivan). Andrew does not think that the Times corrections "completely undercut" the Pope's arguments because it turns out that Surah 2:256 was uttered at a time when Mohammed was already in control of the state of Medina, so that a statement like "There is no compulsion in religion." would acquire a different coloration than if the Prophet had uttered them when he was still struggling to establish his religion as a state power. I don't think this touches the conclusion drawn however that violent conversion of people to religion is wrong and that such coercion is alien to the nature of faith, if not of God. Also, the placement in history of various scraps of scripture (Christian or Muslim) is not the most reliable occupation, especially when done by newspapers. Mohammed said and did a lot of things which ought to stand on their own merits or demerits.



In Part 2 of the Lecture at Regensburg, Benedict XVI offers a polemic against the Islamist conception of God by proposing that Reason is an integral part of God and of religious faith itself, whereas in Islam Allah is not bound by such small human categories as "reason" -- Allah is not bound by even His own words -- Benedict distinguishes Christian theology from Islamic theology at its most basic level.. There seems no sense of IRONY in Benedict however, over how indistinguishable Christianity at one stage of its own historical evolution was, say in the heyday of the Holy Roman Empire, to that of Islam during any of the times it ruled most of the world too, such as during the Ottoman Empire. He focuses instead on "genuine encounter" between faith and reason in the early "inculturation" of "Greek philosophical inquiry" into Christianity. But he does mention the Medieval Ages...



In Part 3
Benedict locates the intellectual and historical roots of the Church in Greece and Rome and the full flowering of the Christian faith in Europe, and begins a discussion of the process of "de-Hellenization" of the Church in the modern era. He addresses the Reformation and the disquisitions of Immanuel Kant on pure reason and reminisces on his own participation in University theological debates during the fifties.



In Part 4
Benedict tackles "the second stage of de-Hellenization" of Christianity which he locates in the theological program of Adolf von Harnack (whom I've never heard of before) and in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. He concludes that these succeed only in separating reason and modern science from their roots in philosophy and theology and thus "reduces man himself" by restricting the "radius" of reason and science. His remarks on Science and the scientific method in this section deserve a longer Commentary forthcoming...


Christian "cultural pluralists" may be surprised, even upset at the Pope's conclusions, laid out here in Part 5 of the Regensburg Lecture. The Times of London had this to say in their article:
The Pope has a history of criticism of Islam. According to a leading Catholic, he believes that Islam cannot be reformed and is therefore incompatible with democracy.
The newspaper also quotes the Pope's "old sparring partner" in Tubingen, Hans Kung, (I didn't know he was still around!) who thinks the incident at Regensburg "unfortunate." I really don't see why.

3 comments:

HILLBLOGGER said...

Dean,

Benedict XVI is undoubtedly a very good man. However, he is very dogmatic too.

His "apology" may not be sufficient to most, Moslems or not but to me, it's enough.

As you like to point out, there's such a thing as freedom of speech and His Holiness mustn't be run to the ground for what he's said.

I must confess that I'm kind of in no man's land today. In a way, my inherent belief is that hardline Islam is not compatible with democracy as we see it in the west but at the same time, Muslims who were nurtured by and in the West are moderates and shouldn't be lumped up with hardliners.

To tell you the truth, I am totally opposed to Turkey's proposed membership in the EU.

There's still a vast cultural divide that needs to be addressed before we in the EU should contemplate their accession.

This is my final take: Muslims or Islamists who live in Europe must abide by the rules of Western democracy that guides nations in Europe. If they aren't prepared to do so, then they must leave.

Europe is fundamentally Christian -and there are more reasonable Christians who inhabit Europe today than unreasonable ones. There are less Christianofanatics here than anywhere else.

It would do Islam a lot of good to enter into dialogue for peace sake. If that isn't possible, then the reasonable Chritians in our (EU's) midst today will find it very difficult not to react.

So far, the moderates have have been good at being moderate - they didn't buy Bush's and Blair's extremist views - Muslims should keep that in mind.

Rizalist said...

HB,
It's really best not to sweep differences under the rug. If we shall have any chance of surviving them.

HILLBLOGGER said...

True, Dean...